Campus Life

Chemistry student gains hands-on experience researching phytoplankton

Opting to major in biochemistry at the University of West Florida, Jennifer Glancy never imagined she would dedicate an entire summer to researching phytoplankton, tiny organisms that serve as a primary link in the marine life food chain. Glancy, along with Pamela Vaughan, assistant professor of Chemistry, and Wade Jeffrey, professor of Biology, is conducting research to discover the extent and type of pigment absorbed by phytoplankton as a result of ultraviolet light.

“The project is part of UWF’s Merck/American Association for the Advancement of Science Biological Chemistry Summer Research Program, which provides selected students with paid research experience,” said Glancy. “One of the best parts of the program for me is gaining hands-on experience in my field of study, which will better prepare me for graduate school or the workplace.”

During the past three months, Glancy, Vaughan and Jeffrey have taken water samples from Pensacola Beach, Pensacola Bay and the Blackwater River. The water samples are filtered for phytoplankton and then pigments are extracted, identified and quantified. This process allows the researchers to know the extent to which phytoplankton of various locations and depths are affected by ultraviolet light.

“Changes in environmental conditions that impact phytoplankton also affect other marine inhabitants that rely on the organisms as a food source,” said Vaughan. “Ultimately, our research may play a role in predicting how marine species will be impacted by rising temperatures and changes in ultraviolet light exposure in the world’s waterways.”

The research will continue through 2012. Each summer UWF researchers will sample, filter, identify and quantify phytoplankton pigments in an effort to discover if there is an increase in pigments as a result of greater ultraviolet intensity directed toward the phytoplankton.

“Participating in this project has been a fantastic experience,” said Glancy. “Students affiliated with this project have learned how to analyze water samples, measure salinity and pH levels, extract pigments for analysis and use instrumentation for pigment identification. It has really opened my eyes to the various career paths available in my field of study.”

For more information, contact Vaughan at To learn more about UWF’s chemistry programs, visit

Written by Josh Lyons, University Marketing Communications